State officials recently released documents showing how much each legislator spent on travel last year. The totals range from a little more than $1,000 to almost $50,000.
Two of the most expensive travelers are from Southeast.
Sen. Bert Stedman spent more on legislative travel last year than any other lawmaker.
The Sitka Republican spent more than $47,000 for airfare, lodging, car rentals, meals, per diem and other costs. That’s about a third more than the previous year.
“I’ve never been No. 1 before. I don’t know if that’s good or bad,” he says.
About 40 percent of Stedman’s charges covered meetings and trainings for the Energy Council, which he chaired for most of the year.
The organization includes lawmakers from energy-producing states and provinces, as well as Venezuela. Members meet quarterly, and Stedman attended additional events.
“So it is important that we get outside and educate ourselves on how the industry works and how to structure policies to keep them competitive in a global environment,” he says.
In all, 20 of Alaska’s 60 lawmakers attended at least one Energy Council meeting.
A lot of Stedman’s other reimbursed travel covered trips to most of the 27 communities in his district. It runs from Metlakatla to Haines.
“So you should see rural legislators really stick out, not for out of state travel, but in-state, just because we’ve got to get around,” he says.
Some other lawmakers with big districts also racked up large travel bills. But most high-spenders were in leadership posts.
The state paid almost a million dollars last year for all 60 legislators’ travel. That’s up about 50 percent from 2012.
Another Southeast Representative, Peggy Wilson, was eighth on the travel-expense list.
The Wrangell Republican spent more than $35,000 during 2013.
“Now that we have a 90-day session, we actually have more committee meetings outside of the session. And for me to go to a meeting in Anchorage, it takes three days for sure, depending on what time of day the meetings are,” she says.
Wilson serves as majority whip, a House leadership position. She’s in her fourth year in that post. She says that sent her to in-state organizational meetings and other events.
Wilson also traveled to meetings and academies put on by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments and the Pacific Northwest Economic Region.
That’s where close to half her total travel costs went.
Does she ever turn down invitations to attend?
“Oh my, yes,” she says. “I could be gone all the time. But you just can’t go to every one. So you try to pick and chose which ones you think are going to be the most meaningful.”
Wilson’s 2013 total showed a five-fold increase from the previous year.
Southeast’s other three sitting lawmakers were in the bottom third of the travel-spending list.
Juneau Republican Rep. Cathy Munoz was 42nd out of 60 with about $7,000 in spending. Sitka Democratic Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins was 52nd at $4,500. And Juneau Democratic Sen. Dennis Egan was 55th, with only $3,300 spent on travel.
Former House Minority Caucus Leader Beth Kerttula came in 35th, with about $11,000 spent. The Juneau Democrat resigned her post last month to take a job at California’s Stanford University.